This is what I do, don't try to understand how I do it; I don't really know either

Through my life, I have consistently felt like the ugly duckling. The one who doesn’t fit in; I’m too loud, to firm, too blunt, too different. Anytime I found somewhere that accepted me, I have clung to that deeply. I think the first time was when I was 14 and I sat in the back row of a church and a boy in that church decided that he wanted to be friends with a girl who would show up at 14 in church alone. He’s been my best friend ever since.

My husband has family in Mexico and the first time I ever met them they made me feel like a part of the family, not because I was married in, but because they accepted me and wanted me. When my husband and I divorced, none of that changed. We actually grew closer. I had somewhere that I belonged.

Brene Brown has written about the difference of fitting in and belonging. She says, “Fitting in is about assessing the situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are,” (The gifts of imperfection).

Dear Church Leaders – knowing the difference is CRUCIAL. In school I always tried to fit in. I felt that who I was would never be good enough. Because I had been abused and grew up in a dysfunctional family, I didn’t believe that who I was had value or worth. So I constantly tried to change who I was to fit the group I was around. This resulted in me hating myself even more. I compromised who I was, to try and get acceptance and ultimately would reject myself. I often wasn’t accepted that way either anyways, so my efforts were wasted.

But isn’t this EXACTLY what the church does? We expect people to change before we make them a part of our group. You have to fit in, in order to be a Christian – at least that’s the theology people actually practice. It’s 100%  contrary to the Bible and we NEED TO STOP THIS!

Christ taught belonging. Come to me, as you are, who you are and I accept you. Christians panic because they think this is a permission to sin, but it’s not. It’s permission to be real, to be honest, open and vulnerable. That sometimes I act in ways that God never created me to, but He loves me anyways. He has already planned for my mistakes. My sin didn’t take me off course, because God already knew my sin and he has planned for that. He is still going to use me even though I mess up.

Can we as Christians not also do the same? Can we also not accept people for where they are at, show them unconditional love and know that God has a plan?

Brene also writes, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

I was not functioning as I was meant to, because my needs hadn’t been met. Too often I found churches that wanted me to “clean up” before I could be accepted by them. I couldn’t clean up because my needs weren’t being met. If we meet peoples needs for love and belonging, then their behaviors will change. It was true for me. It was a long process, but as I found more and more people who loved me for who I was, and I felt I didn’t have to try and change who I was for them to accept me, I had less pain to numb. They loved me even though I was loud and blunt and different. God made me this way. I have to know when to temper those things, but it’s who I am at my core.

Stop trying to make people fit in, when God created us to belong. We all belong to Him.

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What if no one believed me?

I have revisited my life in bits and pieces, exploring manageable chunks at a time. Right now I am going through a season where God is showing me the bigger picture and I am looking back at it all, at once. I have commented a few times that if I were to tell someone my whole life story, no one would believe so many of the things that have happened could have happened to one person – well for sure not to one person and still be reasonably sane (hopefully I am).

I shared this same concern with my counselor Tom; he is amazing, both as a person and as godly counsel. We started wrestling with the ideas of being thankful to God for what we went through and we landed on the story of Job. Job is significant because God was bragging about him and that actually was the sources of his troubles (BIG TROUBLES). Tom shared his perspective when he hits difficult times – that God must have been bragging about him to Satan and now Satan is trying to tear him down. I don’t think this might always be the case, but two truths are: even if God isn’t bragging about us as the cause of our trouble, it’s still a great view of how God sees us and also that so much of what happens in our lives isn’t about us, but it’s about whats going on in the heavenly realm.

The next stop on our wrestling tour took us to Luke 17, where Jesus healed ten lepers but only one returned to glorify God, and that one was made whole. Tom explained that there was a difference between healing and wholeness. See, lepers lost body parts and had all kinds of gross things happen to their body, but when they were healed they no longer had the disease of leprosy. The one who returned was made whole, so he no longer had the disease but also any body parts he lost grew back, any hard skin was made soft and and physical deformities would be gone. It was as though he had never even had leprosy.

Tom said that he believes I am at a stage where God isn’t about just healing me anymore – He wants me to be whole, to be restored to be like before anything ever happened. It was then that I realized that I now have a deep desire that if and when I tell people any part of my story, let alone the whole thing, I HOPE they don’t believe me! What if when people looked at me they saw such freedom that they could never believe I had been through those things? I would be ok with that, because I could point them to my Savior and tell them that those things did happen to me, but He has made me whole.

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The voice of the tree

There has been a sequence of events this year that has opened so many wounds – so many old wounds.

It has taken me back to childhood. A lot of bad things happened when I was a child, some around me and some to me. I have dealt with all these things in different levels and sometimes when you are brought back it’s for a short time and you move forward, but this year it’s not that way. It’s been a long time that I need to lean into and not fight against. It’s painful to go back so no one ever really wants to, but there can be healing when you do – sometimes a deeper healing than there was before.

This time I have had to revisit many places and not just once singular event – I am sure that’s why it’s been harder but it also had a purpose. I looked back with an overall view of my childhood and it’s very painful. It’s given me a deeper realization for all the things that happened in a cumulative way.

I looked back and I saw myself and just myself. I love my parents deeply but they were battling their own issues. I have countless brothers and sisters but I hardly lived with any of them and when I did it was not the best. I look back and see this girl who was on her own, had to fight for herself and find my way by myself. It has been painful to see that that was the reality of my life. Children are not meant to be alone.

And as I grieve this reality, God meets me there. I know He was with me the whole time – it’s not the same as growing up in a loving family who cares for each other, but God is there and He is enough. He was then and He is now.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture I see something else as well. The best illustration I can give is that I am like a tree. Like a Christmas tree. Please bear with me, because Christmas is not my favourite holiday nor do I like decorating. But I am like a tree and there have been significant people who came and added something beautiful to my life. Each is different and though I didn’t have one or two central people who were always there, I had many who each added something. Some of my branches are bent or even broken off. Because of the deformities of my tree and the fact that there is no consistent pattern or decorative theme to my tree – since all the people who added to it were unique and added unique contributions, it is very much a Charlie Brown tree.

No one ever wanted a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It was scoffed at and ridiculed. Everyone wanted the asthetically pleasing tree with its perfect balance of lights and matching ornaments. That made people feel good to look at.

Things have changed and my generation and younger are challenging the status quo of what is acceptable. We’re tired of fake. We’re tired of putting on a show and pretending that in real life everything is perfectly put together. If you need an example please read about the fiasco in Montreal and their “terrible” Christmas tree which initially drew public scorn but was quickly turned around and that tree now has its own twitter account. People are now wanting imperfect trees publicly displayed. Being real is ok. Being vulnerable is strength not weakness.

My life purpose is to bring glory to God. The most significant way that I do that is to be a voice for those who are voiceless and to help others find there voice. I realize this passion comes because I had to do that for myself and those times that I had someone beside me deeply impacted me. Voices together are beautiful. If being alone created in me this bold voice that I proudly have – then I will take it! Not everything good comes out of blessing. God can make amazing things come from the deepest, darkest places. Because he is awesome like that.

The difficult life

It is common to think that the ideal life is the easy life. How great would it be to not struggle, to not have to work very hard and things all came together. I long for that at times – for what I think a normal life would be, with a white picket fence and the days would all be the same, but at least they are calm and relaxed. You work a 9-5 job, wave to your neighbours when you water your plants and take normal vacations with your family.

Last night my family and I were reading from Max Lucado. He talked about God’s reason to exist: and that is to glorify God. That doesn’t appear to make sense at first but he unpacks it really well. If you are drowning and there was someone who could save you, would you want that person to be very quiet, meek and timid? You would want them to shout and call out so you know where they are and that they can save you. This is why His purpose is to bring Himself glory. Only He can save us so He works to direct people to Himself and show them that He can save them.

My life purpose, now that I know Jesus, is to glorify God. It’s easy to think that a life that glorifies God is a wonderful easy life that is problem free. We are all cleaned up now that we are saved and our lives are the epitome of perfection – no more struggle, no more hard work, just kick back and relax time and watch the others flock to Jesus because of how blessed my life is. Clearly this is not what happens, but why not? Why would God not instantly make things easy for us now that we are following him and have given him our lives and hearts? Maybe it’s because we bring Him MORE glory when we walk through difficult times, when we work hard, when we persevere through the struggle.

Please know that I absolutely believe that there will come a day of the “easy life” when we will spend eternity with him and there will be no more tears, no more struggle and no more pain. Today is not that day, and as long as I am breathing tomorrow, then that’s not likely it either. So while I live in this moment and face what we are facing, I do it to bring glory to Him and show that even in the midst of the storm, He is still God, He is still the one who saves. I am not drowning, though so many times it feels like it. I feel overwhelmed by pain and grief, but my feet have not moved from this solid rock on which I stand.

This current struggle will subside, the tears will eventually flow less often and my brain will be able to process more things than just this trauma. Each struggle has its own timeline and depth of impact. Sometimes it feels like I just live from one struggle till the next but the truth is that I live for Christ and that one day He will come to take me home. This is not my home, a world of pain and suffering, but my home exists and until the day I get to permanently live there, I will do my best to be real about who I am and how God is at work in me- through the struggles, because that is what will bring Him the most glory.

Be glorified by my life Lord.

I had my wallet stolen out of my purse by a pick-pocket. It had never happened to me before and it was very shocking. I was walking through a park and I had it before I went in the park because I bought a juice to drink on my way and I stopped at a cafe after the park and it was not there. It was not my fault. I did not want my wallet to be stolen. I did not invite or entice anyone to steal my wallet but there was an opportunity and they took it and I became the victim. I absolutely could have not walked through the park. My purse was unzipped and that could have prevented it. Had I known what would happen of course I would have done things differently but to live your life never walking through parks or anywhere because you might get pick-pocketed is ridiculous.

Perhaps the thief thought I wanted him to take it because my purse was unzipped. Of course it makes him feel better about his crime if I am in some way encouraging it or asking for it. He doesn’t bare the sole responsibility in that situation then right? His conscience can be clearer than it would be had I not walked in the park and left my purse open just for him.

If at this point you don’t see the absurdity in this analogy so far then please stop reading and go get some professional help. The victim is always the victim. They are a victim by nature of the crime committed against them and nothing else they did before or after changes it.

When someone is raped or sexually abused it is horrifically ugly. We will go to great lengths to lessen the ugliness because imagining in our minds these things happening is revolting and against our very nature as human beings. It is supposed to be this way because it is the greatest ugliness and we have to stop enabling and encouraging predators by putting even one ounce of blame on the victim. Victims already blame themselves so STOP IT. I don’t care what she was wearing, I don’t care how much she had to drink, I don’t care if it was her boyfriend, I don’t care his social status, I don’t care her social status, I don’t care where she was at the time. Several of those statements apply to me and how I blamed myself and why I don’t share many details of my rapes because I know that others have been blamed for those same circumstances.

We do need to talk about ways to stay safe but don’t ever do it in a way that puts any blame on the victim. Think about things you say and type and know that with such high statistics on sexual violence it is extremely likely that someone who hears or reads your words has been assaulted – so what would they take from your words? Would they take that you want them to be safe and protected even in vulnerable situations or could they in anyway feel at fault for being victimized?

Finding fault in the victim makes us not tell our stories. It also encourages predators because they are looking for invitations and you are affirming for them that those invitations are there and thus they are not totally at fault. Until we lay the blame 100% on where it should be we will never end this epidemic. Use your voice to protect those who are vulnerable, not to enable predators because you are either doing one or the other. Choose wisely.

 

I have celiac disease and to be honest, most people have no idea what that is other than you shouldn’t eat gluten. That’s definitely  part of it but not even close to all of it. There are so many variants of gluten issues so that adds to the confusion. Sometimes people think my stomach gets a wee bit upset or maybe poop one or two more times in a day if I have gluten. I am going to explain to you here in scientific and word picture terms what actually happens, so that in future I can direct people to this space when they think I am being rude by asking how they cooked something.

Let me stipulate that I can die from eating gluten. If I eat enough gluten I can die immediately though it doesn’t happen often (thank goodness), but every gluten particle ingested kills me a slow death. For years I was malnourished event though I ate healthy foods. I have a higher risk of certain cancers and my immune system is compromised. This is very serious in the immediate and long term.

I also need to EMPHASIZE that you can’t be a little celiac or a lot.  It is a disease – you have it or you don’t. The symptoms effect people differently so that’s where the confusion on that issue comes in. If you have celiac disease, every time your body ingests gluten you do internal damage whether you know it on the outside or not.

I am going to describe the typical attack for me. This happens if I know I have eaten gluten or not (usually I had no idea because I would never eat gluten on purpose). This disproves the theory that it is all made up in my head though I greatly appreciate that suggestion *SEVERELY ROLLS EYES*.

I will start to feel off and gradually I recognize that I am going to throw up. I try and deny it for as long as possible because I will have had no idea that I ate gluten and thus will be getting ill. Eventually it’s obvious (and I can usually tell by my hands because they will be clenched) I am going to be sick. I have to head to the nearest bathroom (In Spain it cost me 1Euro to get sick). The first 98% of the contents of my stomach exit in two heaves. I then usually get a short break to lie on whatever bathroom floor I am in and then the second wave hits. The last 2% of the contents of my stomach take 98 heaves to exit with little time to breath in between. It is violent and unmerciful.

When the heaving subsides the pain starts immediately. The pain is excruciating. I feel like I am dying. This last time was the worst and I was screaming and writhing in agony. I lose the ability to speak because of the pain, it hurts to breath and light is debilitating. Even my husband, who has been with me through most of my attacks was contemplating a hospital run. I have given birth to four full term children and I would go through labour again over the pain that wreaked havoc on my abdomen. Usually the pain is fairly constant but this time it came in vicious waves for several hours. when the last wave rolled away I was left with no energy and a steady pain that was sustainable. The only thing I can do at that point is to sleep. Sweet merciful sleep.

When I wake up I feel completely empty, my head hurts and I am dehydrated. I will usually end up with a rash on my body somewhere. When I was young it was always on my abdomen, then it would appear on my breasts and now it seems to favor the backs of my legs. The pain usually stays until the next day and through the next week it returns every time I eat. Psychologically it is hard to eat but add that physically your body hurts every time you do and it’s a difficult recovery process. There also isn’t a huge motivation to eat because your basically doing it just to keep your blood sugar up, as at this point your body can’t absorb any nutrients anyways.

This brings me to the scientific aspect of whats happening to my body on the inside. When you eat, food goes to your stomach where digestive juices work to break it all down. It then goes to your intestines which have villi. Villi are wavy finger like things. They remind me of a sea anemone so if you have ever watched Finding Nemo then picture the place where Nemo lived with his dad.

Anemone

Those villi are incredibly important to your body because they take all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that your body needs to survive and sucks them out of your food and gives them to your body. When I eat gluten, it’s like a forest fire rips through the vast expanse of my intestines and burns everything to the ground. Another word picture would be that the villi are like grass in my body and a lawn mower comes and mows them down. For years my body was suffering because I had no villi from eating gluten. My body thinks gluten is the devil and goes to war when it enters my body and ends up killing itself – the very thing it is trying to protect. I knew that I had been anemic (iron deficiency) since I was young and then diagnosed with zinc deficiency but it wasn’t until my early thirties that they figured out that celiac disease was the cause.

I can never eat gluten again in my life without it having this effect. There is no cure. There is also no way to know how the damage already done will impact the longevity of my life. In these regards I look to Jesus who has a full buffet of Tim Hortons honey crullers, tempura, beef wellington, scotch eggs (I have no idea if I would even like these but I have never had the ability to try one), and much more glutenous delights waiting for me. I also know that He is sovereign and He will not allow me to leave his earth one minute before His appointed time, celiac disease or not.

So until then I have to be incredibly careful and may even seem overly picky or a jerk to some very hospitable people when I refuse to eat their food. Social gatherings can be anxiety causing (I never had anxiety before I was diagnosed with celiac). The word “potluck” to me means Russian roulette and I can’t take that chance. Eating and socialization are so interconnected. I find that I am not as social as I used to be so this disease has had physical but also mental effects on my body. It’s a strange place to be terrified to eat. There are so many who have been so gracious to try and understand and listen when I explain how to cook for me or accept that sometimes I just want to bring my own food. I am grateful to them and after too many bad attacks, which seem to be getting worse, I have to make decisions to be safe. I hope you don’t take it personal, but if you do I will invite you over for my next attack and maybe when you see it first hand you will then understand why I will choose to possibly offend you rather than endure another war inside my own body.

 

 

I have heard a phrase “look for the good in everyone.” That’s probably not a bad thing. I am not advocating against that but I am going to suggest that it’s not enough and sometimes not effective. What if you search for the good in someone and can’t find it? It is possible that is a result of there not being any, or that your own personal bias is blinding you. Either way, you will have come to a standstill when you reach that point.

My suggestion is not to look for the good, but to look for the pain. This is not necessarily easier to find but I guarantee you that it is there. We all have pain – every single person who ever walked this earth has carried pain.

When I can not understand someone -what they did, what they said or how they are thinking, I look for their pain. Pain is a huge motivator so it is a likelihood that it could be a reason for behaviors and beliefs. Even if it is not the explanation for one event you were searching for answers for, it can still change the way you think about that person. When you know the pain another person carries, it gives you the opportunity to have empathy. You can chose to seize that opportunity or you can pass it by. Letting it go is your loss, not theirs. You can’t physically walk a mile in another persons shoes but you can begin to understand why their shoes are so ragged.

The catch – because there is almost always a catch, is that in order to know someones pain you need to get to know them. It means you have to lay down any offense you currently hold, you have to be willing to step closer to that person who may have hurt you. You may need to to this either physically so you can talk, but definitely emotionally and that is a high risk endeavor. In most cases they need to tell you their story. Sometimes you can learn things about someone from another person but that is not the best way. You need to be careful that you are not inciting gossip or talking behind someone’s back, so again the very best thing is to go to the person directly. This is very challenging when there has been an offense and you are hurting but if you really want healing and possibly restoration then you go to that person directly, and if they are willing to share their story you can find out what caused the pain that they carry.

You will always be able to relate to each other – not because your stories are identical, but because pain has one face and it hurts.